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English duo swap League One for Rangers in the Champions League

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Rangers face something of the unknown against Union Saint-Gilloise tonight but two of the Belgian team’s players were actually recruited from League One in England. 

Ross Sykes (23) made the switch this Summer from Accrington Stanley for a fee of around £250,000 whilst Christian Burgess (30) is now in his third season with USG, joining the club from Portsmouth as a free agent back in 2020.

It provides an indication of the relative budget of the CL 3QR opponents for the Gers, with Monaco or PSV set to play the winner of the tie in the Playoff to follow.

Sykes is delighted with the increased level that he is now exposed to, after his time in England’s third tier, admitting that a big incentive for moving to Belgium’s top flight was the chance to play in such big games following their domestic achievements last season:

“Playing against Rangers in the Champions League is the kind of match you dream about when you are a kid growing up.”

“Even though we’ll be playing against a British team, it doesn’t make much difference to me. It’s a huge occasion anyway.”

It was the defender who got the only goal of the game in Union’s last outing on Friday night, a 1-0 home win over Sporting Charleroi.

Both Sykes and Burgess are likely to line up in defence against Rangers as part of the 3-5-2 style deployed by USG.

The former Pompey man has enjoyed his new adventure and the changes on the pitch, as he told Sky Sports in a wide-ranging interview in March when they were still in contention for the Belgian title:

“I have had to adapt to a different formation, a different style. The ball is on the floor a lot more over here. It demands a different skill-set that is not for everyone. I am back to a bit earlier in my career when I tried to pass the ball and break lines. It is enjoyable.”

Respect

Expect a fast-counter attack and lots of hard running from this well drilled team who can be dangerous but should not be able to cope with Rangers over the two legs as long as Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men approach the games as they should and play with verve, as we saw in the latter stages at Livingston.

This tie will present something of a role reversal as it will be the first time in a while that Rangers have been favourites. The team should be confident of bringing a decent result back from Belgium.

The ‘home’ side will be familiar with the stadium at Leuven but it is of course not their own Stade Joseph Marien which is ineligible to host UEFA games.

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